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The intermittency of renewables creates a need for additional power (demand surge) when the wind doesn’t blow and/or the sun doesn’t shine and when there is a need for less power (a demand trough) when it is sunny/windy – the imbalance between matching intermittent generation with variable demand is grid-scale. The advantages of grid-scale energy storage:
As a result, millions of pounds are paid each year to stop wind farms producing electricity during trough demand – and not only wind farms, but mainly other generators, though these other generation curtailments are largely because of variable wind and solar generation. Millions more are paid to keep power stations (typically gas fired) operating at below 100% efficiency as a “hot standby” that can be fired up at a moment’s notice for peaks and surges. Millions more are paid (in discounted energy charges) to various energy users to permit the generators and grids to switch off parts of their consumption, to reduce the load during peaks and surges, accounting for about 2,000MW costing several thousand pounds per megawatt of capacity regardless of whether or not that capacity is used. They also keep about 500MW of diesel generators and 150MW of gas generators for standby service. Peak energy sells for up to 5 times the normal wholesale price of electricity.
Currently the system is backed up principally by using a combination of pumped hydro-electric storage and gas-fired power stations. This not only reduces dramatically the power that such power stations can sell, but also increases their cost and pollution in doing so, owing to frequent start-ups / ramp-ups and switch-offs / slow-downs. As a result they have become unprofitable, as a result of which all German gas-fired power stations were slated for closure until floor prices were introduced recently, and no new gas-fired power stations are being built in the UK without subsidy so the Capacity Market was developed to incentivise (or subsidise) them - so far, unsuccessfully.
Applying actual winds from January 2000 to the forecast wind farm generation capacity in 2030, and comparing this with the forecast mix of other generation technologies, shows the scale of the looming problem: while the country will need ~60GW of non-wind capacity for windless days such as 24-27 Jan, most of this is (expensively) unused most of the time. CCGT, for example, only has half of its capacity used four times in the month. However when the wind does blow, even much of the baseload nuclear capacity (which should never be stopped) has to be stopped 6 times.
The British government’s TINA (Technology Innovation Needs Analysis) identifies 27.4GW, 128GWh (i.e. average 5 hours’ duration) storage requirements by 2050.
Our own analysis suggests a need for 17-20GW in the UK. Across the EU the need is about 10 times this, and globally about 100 times to an estimated 7TW of capacity, or 3,500 plants of 500MW. And this is just to support intermittent generation, without considering supporting renewables for baseload or for helping supplant hydrocarbons in heating and transportation, which would again increase the market by a further 3-6 times for baseload, and ~10 times for transportation and heating.
National Grid’s Two Degrees scenario forecasts 73.3GW actual demand (plus 5-10% capacity margin required = 85GW demand) by 2040 to be satisfied by just 9.4GW of dispatchable (on-demand) and baseload generation of proven, likely technologies. The remaining 63GW is unreliable: intermittent renewables, interconnectors (neighbouring countries’ peaks mostly coincide with ours), CCS (all projects cancelled as too expensive) and nuclear (expensive). But even the demand level of 73.3GW appears to be a gross under-estimate.
For more details, see Matching the Solution to the Problem.
Once Britain (or any other country, for that matter) has sufficient energy storage we can power the ever increasing demands of the entire country from renewable sources, protecting the environment and reducing dependency on depleting fossil fuels, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Renewables and large scale storage can also contribute to replacing other fuels, such as:
Many grids consider gas-fired power stations to be the technology of choice for balancing renewables. These would operate most efficiently generating a constant baseload power, but which are used to deliver variable power. When we will have built sufficient energy storage capacity, these can be run constantly with most (if not all) required variation being drawn from the energy storage sites.
Apart from pumped hydroelectric storage, none of the alternatives is at grid scale (gigawatts and gigawatt-hours).
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